Bulldogs defense largely set for opener against Clemson

Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) battles to stop a play against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Skylar Lien/University of Alabama)
Caption
Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) battles to stop a play against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Skylar Lien/University of Alabama)

Credit: University of Alabama

ATHENS – With approximately 200 snaps among the first, second and third units, the Georgia Bulldogs wrapped up the camp portion of preseason practice Saturday. They even partook in the ancient UGA tradition of eating watermelon at the end of the scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.

ExploreGeorgia Bulldogs depth chart: The offense

Starting Tuesday, the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs will move into the installation phase of preseason preparations. The focus shifts intensely to daily work on the game plan and lineup for No. 3 Clemson in the Duke’s Mayo Classic in Charlotte on Sept. 4 (7:30 p.m., Channel 2 Action News).

That means personnel experimentation is mostly over at this point. Georgia’s first 22 on offense and defense are largely established, with specialized and backup roles being refined daily in the nine to 10 practices that remain.

“We’re trying to figure out who the best football players are, and that’s been our intent with these scrimmages,” coach Kirby Smart said after the Bulldogs finished their second and final one Saturday. “We’re going out and trying to play fundamental football now. It will become a little more schemed because we’ve got to find out what each guy does well and what we want him to become.”

The general picture of what the defense will look like is coming into sharper focus 11 days out. Let’s take a look:

DEFENSIVE LINE

Starters: First on the field will be seniors Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt at the tackles, then either sophomore Jalen Carter or junior Travon Walker at defensive end. It really doesn’t matter because Georgia is deep and specialized along the defensive front.

Role players: There is strength here in numbers and combinations. Mature backups await their chance, such as senior Tramel Walthour and sophomores Zion Logue, Tymon Mitchell, Bill Norton, Warren Brinson and Nazir Stackhouse. Freshman Jonathan Jefferson was turning heads early in camp. The Bulldogs also will have senior Julian Rochester at their disposal for a sixth season. Coming off a second knee surgery in October, he has 51 games and 20 starts under his belt. So, he’ll make a difference when he’s cleared to go.

Quote: “Going against Jalen, JD, Devonte, Travon Walker, Tramel Walthour, those guys are warriors. It really helps you because, honestly, it makes you hone in on your technique. You really have to play sound technique football, because if you mess one thing up, it might be the end of it for you.” – Freshman center Sedrick Van Pran

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Starters: Nakobe Dean had one spot wrapped up even in the spring, when he was recovering from offseason labrum surgery. He played the last eight games last season with the shoulder injured and still led the team with 71 tackles. Now he’s well. Junior Quay Walker was set to start beside him, but has been sidelined on and off throughout camp. There is little drop-off, however, to senior Channing Tindall, who will be sharing reps at both spots anyway. A solid three-way rotation.

Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) readies for a play against Cincinnati during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Jan. 1, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Chamberlain Smith/UGA)
Caption
Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) readies for a play against Cincinnati during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Jan. 1, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Chamberlain Smith/UGA)

Credit: Chamberlain Smith

Credit: Chamberlain Smith

Role players: This is a position where there are many forgotten faces, such as Trezman Marshall and Rian Davis, who have had good camps. But Georgia has recruited hard at this position, and it has shown in practice. At different times, freshmen Smael Mondon, Chaz Chambliss and Jamon Dumon-Johnson have shined.

Quote: “Nakobe is certainly a big-time signal-caller for us, but I’m excited to see Quay Walker and Channing Tindall as well. And we’ve got some young guys who are really coming up and doing a great job also. But Nakobe is having a good fall so far, and he knows that we have high expectations for him. But nobody has higher expectations for Nakobe Dean than Nakobe Dean, I promise you that.” – Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Starters: Nolan Smith and/or Adam Anderson will start and get most of the snaps. Both come into season wanting to prove they can be every-down OLBs, whether setting the edge or rushing the passer from it. Azeez Ojulari did both well last season and parlayed it into a second-round NFL draft selection. The evolution of offenses mean the strongside “Sam” position has almost disappeared from use. Only the “Jack” gets on the field most of the time these days, so the battle for reps there will stay intense all season.

Georgia linebacker Jermaine Johnson (11) lines up for a play against Arkansas State Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Perry McIntyre/UGA)
Caption
Georgia linebacker Jermaine Johnson (11) lines up for a play against Arkansas State Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Perry McIntyre/UGA)

Credit: UGA Athletics

Credit: UGA Athletics

Role players: Georgia has recruited so well here that it almost doesn’t miss the multi-talented Jermaine Johnson, who transferred to FSU. Former 5-star Robert Beal returned for his final season, and 2020 5-star recruit Mekhail “MJ” Sherman finally is healthy and thriving. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are working Chambliss, Xavian Sorey and Mondon both inside and outside. A wealth of talent awaits in the wings.

Quote: “There’s definitely an opportunity sitting in front of Nolan. I’m looking for him to take advantage of it, and I think he has the skill set to do so.” – Lanning

SECONDARY

Starters: Georgia is set with Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick at one corner and senior Ameer Speed or redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo at the other. Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith have locked down the safety positions. Latavious Brini outlasted Tykee Smith to win the Star/nickel back position by default. Smith’s foot injury last week decrease the Bulldogs’ down-and-distance options at that particular spot. He was the coverage specialist of the duo.

Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo (5) runs a drill during the Bulldogs’ practice session Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Caption
Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo (5) runs a drill during the Bulldogs’ practice session Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

Credit: UGA Athletics

Credit: UGA Athletics

Role players: There has been no more intense competition in camp than in the defensive backfield. Speed and Ringo remain neck-and-neck. Jalen Kimber is the next corner in the game and could work some at Star. DBs coach Jahmile Addae has been thrilled with his four freshman additions, especially the late-arriving Kamari Lassiter and early enrollee Nyland Green. But experienced depth just is not available. Senior William Poole is going to have to help out at both Star and at safety, and cross-training has been required for virtually every defensive back. Smith will return eventually, but apparently not against Clemson.

Quote: “DK and Kelee and Ameer Speed and Jalen Kimber bring us the most experience (at cornerback). Kamari is obviously the youngest, but he’s worked all over the place. The guy’s played almost every position on the field. He’s a bright young player and has good instincts. We’ve got to find a home spot for him to get him more reps and ready to play. And I feel really good about the play of Brini.” – Smart

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